Paul W. Barada
The famous industrialist Henry Ford once said: “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.” While this short simple sentence may seem a little odd, it contains more truth than most realize. That simple sentence has to do with what some call the power of positive thinking. Interestingly enough, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale wrote a very famous book titled, “The Power of Positive Thinking,” which was first published in 1952. Millions of copies have been sold, and the book has been translated into over a dozen languages. What’s even more interesting is that if one Googles the phrase, “power of positive thinking,” nearly 45 million separate listings come up.
While some may scoff at the notion that positive thinking can produce positive results, the mere fact that there has been so much written on the subject seems to suggest that there must be something to it. Nearly everyone knows that positive thinking is an attitude that sees the bright side of things, that “a positive mind anticipates happiness, joy, health, and favorable results.” Nearly everywhere one looks there are little catch phrases that reinforce the notion that it’s beneficial to see the glass as half full and not half empty. Is it possible, one is compelled to ask, that simply expecting a positive outcome will tend to produce one? While there are those who doubt that “believing will make it so,” too much has been written about the value of having a positive attitude for all of it to be just so much hot air. More basically, what harm can it do to believe that things will work out for the best?
Even in the arena of sports, the idea of expecting a positive outcome has come into vogue. Take basketball for example. More and more coaches teach what’s called “visualization.” As Henry David Thoreau, one of the most well-known transcendentalists of the 19th century and author of the book “Walden,” once said, “The secret to achievement is to hold a picture of a successful outcome in mind.” Here’s now it works in sports: Basketball coaches literally teach their players to visualize the ball going through the hoop when they’re on the foul line. In football, kickers are taught to visualize the ball going through the uprights. The point is, visualizing a positive outcome in advance tends to produce the desired result.
Here’s a silly, but interesting, example of how positive thinking can work in a very mundane way. Whenever I go to one of the shopping centers in Indianapolis with Connie and we’re looking for a parking spot near the entrance, I actually expect to find one. I really do! I expect that there will be a vacant parking spot near the entrance of the mall or shopping center; and, more often than not, I find one. It drives Connie crazy. “How do you always manage to find good parking spots?” she’ll ask me in disgust. My answer? “Because I expect to.” On the other hand, Connie doesn’t expect to find an available parking spot. As a matter of fact, she thinks that she’ll end up parking way in the back; and, to be honest, that’s what usually happens. That kind of positive thinking doesn’t always work, but it works more often than not.
If thinking positively will work for things as mundane as parking spots, why shouldn’t it work in other, more important aspects of our lives? That brings me back to what Henry Ford once said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” So, there must also be something to the idea that believing you can’t has the same sort of effect on hoped-for outcomes. If you expect to fail, you probably will. Whereas, if you think you’ll succeed, you probably will. Instead of thinking about all the things that could go wrong with a plan or an idea, think about all the things that could go right!
Here’s what psychologist Michael F. Scheier, writing in “The Atlantic,” had to say about his research on the power of optimism and physical health: “We … know why optimists do better than pessimists. The answer lies in the differences between the coping strategies they use. Optimists are not simply being Pollyannas; they’re problem solvers who try to improve the situation. And if it can’t be altered, they’re also more likely than pessimists to accept that reality and move on. Physically, they’re more likely to engage in behaviors that help protect against disease and promote recovery from illness. They’re less likely to smoke, drink, and have poor diets, and more likely to exercise, sleep well, and adhere to rehab programs. Pessimists, on the other hand, tend to deny, avoid, and distort the problems they confront, and dwell on their negative feelings. It’s easy to see now why pessimists don’t do so well compared to optimists …. we’ve been able to document that links between optimism and physical health do exist.”
So, there’s more to the notion of simply expecting a positive result, like finding a parking place. There appears to be solid research that optimism involves quantifiable characteristics that tend to produce the positive outcomes that some would merely write off as “chance,” or “good luck.” There’s clearly more to having an optimistic outlook on life, of expecting a good outcome. And even if it is all nonsense, it’s still a much more pleasant way to go through life!
That’s -30- for this week.